Commentary

Ancient Chaseology: 1980-1984

Ancient Chaseology: 1980-1984

Updated: September 13, 2008, 3:19 PM ET
By Matthew Willis | ESPN.com

Way back in 1975, NASCAR decided to change its points system, using an idea jotted down on a cocktail napkin at the Boot Hill Saloon in Daytona Beach, Fla. Pretty humble beginnings, no?

What if the Chase had become a part of NASCAR back in 1975? How would history have changed with a Chase back then?

Drivers probably would have driven differently, which would have led to changed results and altered points championships during the years covered here. But let's play the "what if?" game and take the historical results and translate them into the current Chase system.

Here's a look at Chases from 1980 through 1984.

1980

Chaseology: 1980

Final "Chase" standings
Place, Driver Points
1. Cale Yarborough 6,570
2. Dale Earnhardt -14
3. Darrell Waltrip -170
4. Dave Marcis -193
5. Benny Parsons -206
6. Jody Ridley -240
7. Terry Labonte -241
8. Bobby Allison -304
9. Richard Petty -327
10. Harry Gant -370
11. Richard Childress -390
12. James Hylton -438
The Lead-Up: Dale Earnhardt, in just his second full season, led the series leading into the Chase. But once the Chase started, it was all about parity. Each of the top six drivers in the standings won multiple races, and four of them had never won a championship before. Things were bound to get interesting.

What Actually Happened: The championship became a two-man race between Earnhardt and Cale Yarborough, who was going for his fourth championship in five seasons. Earnhardt's wins at Martinsville and Charlotte appeared to wrap it up, but Yarborough answered with wins at Rockingham and Atlanta going into the season finale. Earnhardt locked it up with a fifth-place finish -- even though Yarborough was third -- good enough for a 14-point edge for his first title.

What Would've Happened: Earnhardt's 31-point lead entering the Chase being erased would have been enough to swing the first championship in the history of the Chase. The beneficiary? Yarborough, by a mere 14 points over Earnhardt. The big race might have been at Dover, where Earnhardt blew an engine and finished 30 spots behind Yarborough, a 99-point swing. Earnhardt had to wait for his first championship.

1981

Chaseology: 1981

Final "Chase" standings
Place, Driver Points
1. Darrell Waltrip 6,840
2. Bobby Allison -153
3. Terry Labonte -487
4. Jody Ridley -526
5. Harry Gant -569
6. Dale Earnhardt -608
7. Richard Petty -675
8. Ricky Rudd -678
9. Dave Marcis -681
10. Buddy Arrington -687
11. Benny Parsons -875
12. Kyle Petty -883
The Lead-Up: The season was shaping up to be a two-man race, as Bobby Allison led Darrell Waltrip by 70 points with 10 races to go. He also held a lead of more than 200 points over third-place Harry Gant. Waltrip's seven wins put him on top entering the Chase and set him up well after finishing fourth or better in points each of the previous four seasons.

What Actually Happened: The two-man show continued. DW more than made up the 70 points by which he trailed Allison and went on to win his first Cup series championship by 53 points over Allison. The next-closest competitor, Gant, was just 667 points back. It was the fourth time Allison finished runner-up in points.

What Would've Happened: DW just went mad in the Chase. In the first nine races, he won five times and didn't finish worse than third, and he finished third only once. That 10th race? An awful sixth-place run in the finale at Riverside. That's right, a road course ended the Chase. Allison still finished second, but he would've been 153 points back despite not finishing worse than 10th in any Chase race.

1982

Chaseology: 1982

Final "Chase" standings
Place, Driver Points
1. Darrell Waltrip 6,717
2. Bobby Allison -202
3. Harry Gant -290
4. Terry Labonte -418
5. Richard Petty -440
6. Ricky Rudd -468
7. Jimmy Means -526
8. Dave Marcis -534
9. Ron Bouchard -561
10. Morgan Shepherd -578
11. Buddy Arrington -599
12. Dale Earnhardt -690
The Lead-Up: Another season when Victory Lane was dominated by the duo of Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip. Allison led by 50 points before the points were reset, but it wasn't over for Waltrip. Terry Labonte sat in second but hadn't yet won, so he started the Chase 70 points behind Waltrip and 60 behind Allison. Only three other drivers won a race before the Chase: Dave Marcis, Harry Gant and Dale Earnhardt each won once.

What Actually Happened: DW continued his winning ways throughout the Chase, winning five more times to take his total for the season to 12. Sitting in third with 10 races left, Waltrip moved up to second after finishing third at Richmond. Then a win at Martinsville vaulted him into the lead with just three races to go. He didn't give it up from there.

What Would've Happened: Nothing would have changed. Waltrip won five races and finished third in three others during the Chase. Like an opponent standing over a gimme putt, I'll just comment "that's good." He didn't even have to be that good. Every other driver faltered multiple times during the Chase, and DW waltzed to his second straight title by 202 points over Allison.

1983

Chaseology: 1983

Final "Chase" standings
Place, Driver Points
1. Darrell Waltrip 6,708
2. Bobby Allison -24
3. Terry Labonte -166
4. Bill Elliott -276
5. Ricky Rudd -390
6. Neil Bonnett -402
7. Richard Petty -405
8. Dale Earnhardt -411
9. Tim Richmond -442
10. Dave Marcis -597
11. Harry Gant -659
12. Joe Ruttman -783
The Lead-Up: Darrell Waltrip was looking to join Cale Yarborough as the two drivers to win three straight championships both in the non-Chase and Chase systems. But again, his main foil was Bobby Allison, who was looking to break through and finally win a title. Waltrip again didn't lead the points with 10 races to go (he trailed Allison by 61), but he adopted the points lead based on his series-high four wins at the time of the reset.

What Actually Happened: Although Waltrip put a small dent in his lead, Allison was finally able to hold him off by just 47 points to win his first and only championship. Some new voices made noise in the points. Bill Elliott finished third in his first full season. Also lurking were Neil Bonnett (sixth) and Tim Richmond (10th).

What Would've Happened: Waltrip continued his mastery of the Chase in what would've been the second championship to change hands because of the Chase. He started with eight top-5 finishes in a row, but Allison counterpunched by winning three of the first four. But Allison blinked first by finishing 16th at Rockingham. Waltrip was involved in a wreck in the race but recovered and finished fifth (but three laps down). At Riverside, it was either driver's championship to lose, but Allison finished ninth and had to look ahead to DW's sixth. DW won his third championship, and Allison was left in second again.

1984

Chaseology: 1984

Final "Chase" standings
Place, Driver Points
1. Harry Gant 6,585
2. Terry Labonte -25
3. Bill Elliott -132
4. Ricky Rudd -209
T5. Darrell Waltrip -229
T5. Bobby Allison -229
7. Dale Earnhardt -299
8. Geoffrey Bodine -318
9. Neil Bonnett -363
10. Tim Richmond -392
11. Richard Petty -400
12. Ron Bouchard -498
The Lead-Up: 1984 looked to be the most competitive, tight-knit race to date. Dale Earnhardt led by 31 when the points were reset, but he, like second-place finisher Terry Labonte and third-place Bill Elliott each had won only once. Darrell Waltrip, in fourth, started the Chase on top with his four wins. Three drivers, all sixth or worse in points (Bobby Allison, Geoffrey Bodine and Richard Petty) each had a pair of wins.

What Actually Happened: Earnhardt faltered late in the season with poor finishes at Darlington and Charlotte and slipped to fourth. Waltrip finished right behind him in fifth and, like Yarborough, was unable to win four titles in a row. In the end, Labonte's consistency won him the title even though he had just two wins on the season. Handsome Harry Gant finished second, 65 points back.

What Would've Happened: With a nickname like Mr. September, you know Gant had to be good in the crunch time of the Chase. In 1984, Gant won two Chase races, at Darlington and Dover, and finished second twice more and fourth in two others. He slipped only once in the Chase when he blew an engine in the next-to-last race of the season at Atlanta. The good news? Gant's closest challenger, Labonte, blew an engine at Atlanta 84 laps earlier.

Monday: Ancient Chaseology: 1975-1979

Tuesday: Ancient Chaseology: 1980-1984

Wednesday: Ancient Chaseology: 1985-1989

Thursday: Ancient Chaseology: 1990-1994

Friday: Ancient Chaseology: 1995-1999

Saturday: Ancient Chaseology: 2000-2003

Matt Willis is a studio researcher at ESPN.